UN declares clean water a human right

The UN General Assembly declared access to clean water and sanitation a “human right” in a resolution that more than 40 countries including the United States did not support.

The resolution adopted by the 192-member world body expresses deep concern that an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation.

UN anti-poverty goals adopted by world leaders in 2000 call for the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation to be cut in half by 2015.

The non-binding resolution, sponsored by Bolivia, was approved by a vote of 122-0 with 41 abstentions including the United States and many Western nations although Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain and Norway supported it.

Bolivia’s representative said many rights have been recognised including the rights to health, life, and education.

He said the Bolivian government introduced a resolution on the right to adequate water and sanitation because contaminated water causes more than 3.5 million deaths every year – more than any war.

US diplomat John Sammis told the General Assembly that the United States “is deeply committed to finding solutions to our water challenges,” but he said the resolution “describes a right to water and sanitation in a way that is not reflective of existing international law”.

The resolution called the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation “a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”.

It called on UN member states and international organisations to provide funding, technology and other resources to help poorer countries “scale up” efforts to provide clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all people.

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